Interview with One of the Founders of War History Online
October 20, 2017 joedemadio 1 Comment
Six years ago, in 2011, Jack Becketh founded War History Online. One of the people who quickly joined his side was Joris Nieuwint and they worked on it together. They did not realize the success their website would have. With more than 1.5 million followers on Facebook, War History Online is the biggest source of War news on the internet. Today I had a talk with Joris Nieuwint about his passion for World War 2 history, the success of their website and his role behind the scenes!
Who is Joris Nieuwint?
‘Well, I am Joris Nieuwint! I’m 39 years old, married for over 11 years and father of three kids living in Veghel, The Netherlands.’
How and when did your passion for WW2 History started?
‘To be honest, I’m not sure. For as long as I can remember I’ve had a massive passion for War History. A while ago I found an old notebook from elementary school in which I had copied text from a book on the Spitfire. So it goes back a long way! Ofcourse I asked my parents once and they said that I’ve always had this fascination. They also said that I developed it on my own, they do not share this passion with me.’
I noticed you’re very interested in Operation Market Garden. How did that start?
After moving to Arnhem in 1990 my interest in WWII went from bad to worse. I was suddenly living in a city where a major battle was fought and in a house that still had some scars from a V-2 Rocket that crashed across the street. It really fueled my interest.
The library in Arnhem had a big selection of WWII books and some of those were about the battle for Arnhem. So I began to really dig in. Not just reading the materials but going out by bike to retrace their steps, look for battle damage and search for the key locations.
When I discovered the battlefield guide books I was really hooked. I started to drive all over the Market Garden area by car, but gradually my trips got longer and longer.
What impact did living in Veghel have on your interest in World War 2?
Well, I was born in the province of Groningen and later moved to Arnhem. The first house I bought in 2003 was 750 meters from the John Frost Bridge and turned out to have taken a direct hit from an American bomb in February 1944. I love it that even my first house had a connection to the Second World War.
We then got the opportunity to build a house in Veghel and that made us move down the corridor.
Moving to Veghel broadened my Market Garden horizon. I was used to commemorate the lost battle. To me Operation Market Garden was always an operation that was remembered but not celebrated. Moving 60 kilometers down the corridor changed that perspective. Suddenly I lived in an area where Market Garden meant liberation and the end of 4,5 years of German occupation. That took some getting used to. It also meant that I now had a new area to explore, new stories to discover and new locations to visit.
Moving to Veghel also meant a renewed interest in the 101st Airborne and their exploits. For example the battles around Veghel in which McAuliffe found himself, for short time, surrounded and cut off from other allied units (a prelude of what was to come). I love those kind of stories! I even looked into the locations of crashed bombers which are all around Veghel but, sadly, nobody remembers. I’ve learned so many new things by moving to a new area and met so many new people, it completely renewed my passion for Market Garden.
I heard you drive a WW2 Vehicle. Can you tell us about it?
Since 2006 I’ve been the proud owner of a WWII Dodge WC 51. After attending numerous ceremonies and Para droppings on the Ginkel Heath I decided I didn’t want to be a bystander anymore. I wanted to be part of the ceremonies! I wanted to be part of the scene and actively help to keep the memories of WWII alive. Together with a friend we went looking for a Dodge and we found one in the extreme south of Limburg. The person who sold me his Dodge said; ”you are not buying a vehicle, you are buying an adventure”. He could not have been more right.
It is because of the Dodge that I met my buddy Jack Beckett who had started the Historic Military Vehicles Forum (which is still active). Jack had massive plans but needed a person who knew his way around the internet and we have worked together ever since. Because of the Dodge I joined the Screaming Ducks Living History Association, had the honor to meet some of the WWII veterans who fought for our freedom, met countless new people and new friends, and the Dodge is the reason why I’m now being interviewed here!
What did you do before you started War History Online?
Computers always had my interest and I’ve been playing with PC’s since my parents got us our Atari ST in 1986. Before the internet got big the old BBS systems fascinated me where you had to dial in with your modem and retrieve your message so you could read them offline. The good old days of Gopher and 56k modems. Then the World Wide Web began its rise and in the mid-1990s I got into that. I launched my first website in 1997 and been playing around with websites ever since. My first real job was as an IT support engineer and I moved on to my previous job as a service manager at a Dutch internet company.
What is your involvement in starting War History Online?
As much as I would like to take credit for it, it wasn’t my idea. Jack Beckett is the founder of War History Online but I’ve always been at his side working on the tech side of things and help write the content. We had started a number of websites in the past which all failed for various reasons but we never gave up. Then Jack started War History Online and I soon joined him and we are still working on it.
We had a vision of the site where fellow enthusiast could go to read all the latest war news, read interesting articles, watch videos and meet new people. All in one place. We have achieved part of that but still have gaps to fill and areas in which to expand.
At what moment did you realize WHO was a success?
We had the Historic Military Vehicles forum as a springboard to launch War History Online so we quickly build a small following. When our first images went viral and our first stories appeared at the top of Reddit TIL, then we knew we really we were on to something. Using Facebook marketing we started to grow WHO and like by like the site grew until now that it is in the top 1500 sites in the United States.
What do you think is the biggest factor to its success?
Our drive is the biggest factor, both Jack and me had full time jobs and we did this on the side. But we published new stories and images every single day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We never gave up and we kept at it. Three years ago we joined forces with an American company, Timera, together we were able to achieve incredible growth and turn a hobby into a business.
How many hours a week do you spend on the site?
That has changed somewhat over the years, when I still had a full time job we worked on it in the evenings and weekends. Then it became my full time job and I worked 60-70 hours (or more) on it every week.
Later on when we were able to hire help that has dropped to more normal levels but it is a rare week that I work less than 50 hours on it.
How does a typical day in your life look like?
Since we joined forces with Timera and were able to hire writers and editors my day to day involvement with War History Online has changed. Now I’m usually busy on projects that all have a connection with WHO but I’m no longer involved in the publishing of new articles. My latest project is the War History Online forum, this is where we are building our own community for users who want to talk to one another outside of Facebook. It is a place where the discussions have a little bit more depth and topics are not quickly buried deep in the timeline, being pushed down by cute cat videos.
We began our new forum a couple of months ago and have just passed our first milestone of 1,000 members. My daily work is managing the boards, answering questions, writing new topics and promoting it on our Facebook pages. This is on top of a score of other tasks that need doing every day but are not really sexy.
What is your biggest achievement with WHO so far?
When I now meet new people, and say that I work for War History Online, more often than not, they tell me that they have heard of it or are following us on Facebook. They have read a story from us and sometimes even remember the topic. We now reach millions of readers every month, we can tell stories of heroism and sacrifice that otherwise would never be told. When our fans on Facebook share a story 2,000 times then we know that it meant something to them. Because of their share, new people who otherwise would’ve never seen it, read it too. This way we keep the torch of remembrance burning and we try and pass it on to the next generation by making them not only aware, but also interested in it.
We have also been able to help raise funds for charities, veterans and restoration projects.
I think we made a difference, that is a massive achievement.
What does your family think of your success?
They see the passion in me about WWII and WHO and they are now used to the fact that it is my full time job, but it took a while for it to sink in that I gave up my full time job and started working on a website that they never visited. Now they see a happy Joris who loves his job!
Are you a carrying on the WW2 History virus to your kids?
Totally! But I’m not trying to bore them to death with it. They have been driving around in the Dodge and coming with me to events for as long as they can remember so interest in WWII is spoon fed up to a certain degree. But they are still young. The oldest is 9, and I let them set the pace of their interest in WWII. When they have questions, I answer them. Usually I give them more information than they care for but I want them to discover their passion for it on their own.
Is there something we should know about you?
I think I spilled the beans already but if you want to talk to me, join the War History Online forum at https://boards.warhistoryonline.com and send me a message!